US police yesterday sought to uncover why a jobless immigrant went on a murderous rampage in a center where he had learned English, mowing down 13 people before killing himself.
The gunman at the heart of the tragedy in the quiet New York town of Binghamton was identified as Jiverly Voong, 41, of Vietnamese descent, who until early last month had been taking classes at the American Civic Association.
Early on Friday Voong, who had legally changed his name from Wong, donned body armor, blocked the center’s back doors with his car and burst into the front of the building, unleashing a hail of gunfire, police said.
Without uttering a word, Voong shot two receptionists, killing one, then strode into a classroom where an English lesson was being held and shot dead another 12 people before turning the gun on himself, police chief Joseph Zikuski said.
The dead included four Chinese nationals, Beijing state media said, and a Philippine woman identified as Dolores Carbonillas Yigal. The alarm was raised by the surviving receptionist, hailed as a hero by the police chief, who played dead after being shot in the stomach. She then crawled under her desk to call 911 on her cellphone.
She and the other three injured were on Saturday still being treated in hospital. Two were in critical condition.
The small community, 215km northwest of New York city, voiced shock on Saturday at the outburst of violence, especially angered that it had happened at a center trying to help new immigrants pursue the American dream.
“That this tragedy should have happened in our community to our friends who only wanted to advance their knowledge and love of America is unbearable,” the center’s president Angela Leach told reporters as she fought back tears.
“Whatever drove this individual to do what he did, I cannot possibly fathom,” she said, vowing to continue the center’s work “to help people realize the dreams of American citizenship.”
The names of the victims have not yet been released, but mayor Matthew Ryan said Binghamton authorities had received inquiries from nine countries and two consulates about the safety of their nationals.
Voong, who had a gun permit since the late 1990s, had recently lost his job at the Shop Vac assembly plant, which the New York Daily News reported closed down in November.
“We picked up that apparently people were making fun of him. He felt he was being degraded because of ... his inability to speak English. And he was upset about that,” Zikuski said.
A former coworker of Voong quoted in the New York Times said he was surprised to see Voong at a local gym three times, including the night before the shootings.
Son Quach said Voong told him in Vietnamese he had been laid off with US$200 a week in unemployment benefit, and that he spent more time in the gym because he couldn’t find another job.
The man was also a gun enthusiast who often spent weekends shooting targets and trying out different guns at a local sporting goods store, the paper said.
“Obviously this investigation will focus a lot upon what the motive may have been. We may not ever come up with anything,” Zikuski said.
But he did rule out any tie to terrorism.
US President Barack Obama, speaking in Strasbourg on the sidelines of NATO summit, said: “I am heartbroken for the families who survived this tragedy.”